I’d been daydreaming of travelling to Italy for years. Literally. One day, a few years ago, when I was stuck in bed in excruciating pain thanks to my spinal problem, I had what I can only describe as a powerful waking dream. In the ‘dream’ I saw a version of me living in Italy in a small Italian fishing village. It was the strangest thing and completely unexpected.
I’d been to Italy a few times back in my early 20s BUT I’d never been to the places I could see in these dreams. I didn’t even know if they were real places.
The first time I met my Inner Sage*, I immediately understood that she lived in Lake Como (another place I’d never been and didn’t know anything about). Out of the blue, my interest in all things Italian skyrocketed. For the record, I don’t think of myself as particularly woo woo. All the same, I suddenly felt a very strong inner pull to Italy. I knew I had to go. I had no idea what, but I felt like there was something there for me to find… (spoiler: there was!).
The truth is that years of extreme chronic pain and the trauma that goes along with it had turned a light off inside me. Italy, somehow, turned the light back on.
When I travel, I love to live, eat and experience life like the locals as much as possible. I love meeting and getting recommendations from locals rather than guide books – so this means I love to stay in B&Bs and AirB&B apartments wherever possible, and do my best to sniff out the spots where the locals eat and drink day-to-day rather than tourist spots or anything super fancy.
On eating out in Italy in high season: As a rule, the tourists eat outside in the sweltering heat (and usually have to wait and pay for the privilege), while the locals enjoy the cooler spots indoors. Often a place would tell us it’d be a half hour wait for a table. They’d be surprised when we asked if it was possible to sit inside, and we were always shown to a great table immediately, seated among locals chowing down.
On internet connections: Both Rod and I had a ridiculous amount of trouble with Telstra (my Aussie mobile phone provider) and their international travel pass packs. Even once we were allegedly set up, their service rarely worked. I won’t go into it, because just writing those couple of sentences makes me relive how beyond frustrating and upsetting it was trying to deal with Telstra while in Italy. Next time I’ll organise a prepaid phone/internet service as soon as I arrive.
At first, I struggled with the lack of reliable internet… but I soon surrendered to it. The space created by being offline meant I was able to immerse myself in my Italian affair, be really present and come up with billion great ideas for Betty Means Business (always the way once you switch off on holidays, isn’t it!).
On transport: Regional trains, fast trains, the metro, planes, taxis, ferries, public buses, driving, hydrofoils, grabbing lifts, chartered boats, and even chairlifts: we used them all on this trip to get around. Wherever possible we walked. And we’d take the long way, which usually included a lot of stairs. Once you’ve spent a few years in bed, unable to take even a single step without pain, you realise what a joy and privilege it is to walk walk walk and move your body freely.
Discovering so many gorgeous places on foot was one of the best parts of the trip for me. At the end of every day I’d ask Rod how many steps/stairs/kilometres we’d covered that day (tracked with his FitBit) and reflect on how fucking cool life is!
Here are all the delicious details:
I love trying local produce, discovering tiny towns, and epic landscapes, and man, Lake Como did not disappoint!
Stayed: At this lovely B&B. It’s a little out of the way (which I loved!). The family that run this gorgeous B&B are wonderful and made us feel like cherished family.
Favourite eats: Osteria Sali e Tabacchi. This unpretentious tiny restaurant, and their loving focus on local seasonal produce, was a culinary highlight in every way. My mouth is watering right now thinking of the meals we had there!
Must do: Make time to visit the eye-poppingly stunning Villa del Balbianello. Take the middle lake ferry to Lenno and then follow the signs to the Villa. We decided to walk the long way. The views along the way are worth it!
Even though it was teaming with tourists and everything that goes along with them, Venice is a fascinating one of a kind city. Waking up early to wander through Piazza San Marco and along the water alone was magical!
Stayed: Hotel Monte Carlo. Nothing super special, but it’s in a great location, the room was way more spacious than I’d expected, and they welcomed us with champagne and cookies.
Favourite eats: The dark chocolate gelato from Gelato Di Natura. I had it 2 days in a row!
Must do: Dedicate an entire day to getting lost as you explore all the tiny alleyways. Anytime we came to a crossroad we took the quieter option and loved discovering the piazzas, bars and bridges we found.
It’s true what they say, the light in and around Florence is something else. I fell head over heels in love with this town.
Stayed: In this great little top floor apartment. It had everything we needed in a great location!
Favourite eats: The San Lorenzo food markets and surrounding local providers. If you’ve got your own cooking facilities pick up some fresh lemon and truffle stuffed ravioli from Pasta Fresca for dinner. If you don’t, in the evenings head upstairs at the markets to Mercato Centrale for an array of bloody delicious offers from local providers. If you’re looking for a mid morning reinforcement, head to Starbene. So good!
Must do: Get out of town and explore the tiny towns dotted through the Florentine Hills. We loved watching the sunset over Florence from Settignano.
We stayed in a little town a train stop away from the first tiny fishing village in the Cinque Terre, and I’m so happy we did! It meant we could enjoy an aperitif and passeggiata with the locals at the end of the day.
Stayed: In this sweet apartment in Levanto. It was just right and spotlessly clean!
Must do: Take a hike, but be aware the hiking trails linking the towns in the Cinque Terre are pretty busy. We hiked from Levanto to Monterosso, and I don’t have the words to describe the epic cliff-edge views! (Although if you suffer from vertigo or don’t like heights, this isn’t for you!)
This is where Italians holiday. The island is known for its abundance of natural saunas, thermal springs and beaches.
Stayed: in this quirky studio apartment right on the water in the old port. Talk about perfect holiday vibes!
Favourite eats: I’m a fan of simple, local fare done well. Alio, olio e Pomodoro definitely delivered.
Must do: Explore the Aragonese Castle and head to Nitrodi Springs – the oldest spa in the world, used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans since 100 BC. The spring water is reputed for its beautifying and healing properties.
I loved Capri for its ridiculous views and crystal clear water. My favourite thing was to be in/on/next to the incredible water as much as possible. It was so clear, blue, and salty. I’m still dreaming of it!
Stayed: At this lovely quiet B&B with a beautiful secret garden.
Favourite eats: Panorama. As the name suggests, the views are jaw-dropping. Be sure to book a table in advance and be there in time to enjoy the sunset.
Must do: Take a private boat tour of the island with time for swimming and tanning. Also, visit the beautiful art deco inspired Villa Lysis.
What a place!
Stayed: We stayed at 2 locations in Positano. The first was a B&B way up the mountain, surrounded by incredible organic vegetable gardens. The views and meals on the terrace were incredible, but I wouldn’t recommend the accommodation itself. We also stayed in town at Hotel California for a few nights. The best thing about this place was its prime location and views from the balcony.
Favourite eats: La Tagliata. This place is way up the mountain, but the restaurant will send a driver to collect you from/return you to your accommodation. There’s no menu, you get whatever mama’s cooked up that day. I promise you won’t leave hungry! We loved it so much we ate there twice. Be sure to book in advance.
Must do: Get out of town! The views are incredible but Positano itself is extremely touristy. Head to a beach club for the day (boats ferry people back and forth for free) or explore the smaller towns up the mountain. (If hiking, be aware of fire warnings and check the trail signs before you set off).
The energy of this city drew me in straight away. And Rome was a highlight for Rod, who was beyond excited to explore ALL THE ANCIENT THINGS.
Stayed: In this wonderful Trastevere apartment. It was much bigger than the photos let on and in a great location.
Favourite eats: Da Enzo 29 for the best carbonara and cacio e pepe in town (did you know Carbonara was invented in Rome? Rod was in heaven!)
Must do: Get your butt to the Vatican very early (we got there at 6.50am to explore without the crowds and were very happy we did!). We also loved wandering through the maze of streets around the Pantheon and Piazza Nuovo.
Are you planning a trip to Italy? I’m already dreaming of going back!
* Wondering what the hell I mean by Inner Sage? Hang tight, I’m planning on sharing more on this VERY soon!